Although Newer, 802.11g Not Necessarily Better - Page 1

Mar 29, 2004

Drew Robb

There is one lesson people learn very early in life: faster is better. Whether it's a toy car or a bicycle, a network connection or a processor, there can never be too much speed. In June 2003, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) did its part for WiFi releasing the final standard for 802.11g wireless LAN protocol.

Theoretically, 11g provides a data rate of 54 Megabits (Mbps), nearly five times the rate of the popular 11b standard. But, as they say on TV, "actual results may vary." In many cases, 11g is no faster than using 11b. So what is the difference between the different wireless standards and how can you maximize the actual results?

b Before a

802.11, also referred to as Wi-Fi, consists of a family of protocols for wirelessly implementing Ethernet. Wireless transceivers, called access points (AP), are installed as just another element on the LAN. The computing devices -- laptops, desktops, PDAs, printers or any other networkable device -- contain a wireless LAN PC card in place of the usual network interface card (NIC). Once the device establishes a link with the AP, it behaves as any other network device, the only difference being the data spends part of its time traveling through the air rather than over a wire.

Three of the 802.11 specifications relate to transmission frequencies and data rates: 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g. The IEEE approved both the 11a and 11b standards in September 1999, but 11b devices were easier to build so these beat 11a to market by about two years. As a result, 11b is far more prevalent.

If you are in a hotel, airport or Starbucks with wireless access, it will be 11b. Most enterprises also use 11b, though some later deployments have started using 11a. Both these standards have their advantages and disadvantages. 11b utilizes the 2.4 gigahertz GHz band and has a top transmission rate of 11 Mbps. It has three non-overlapping channels.

11a offers several advantages overs 11b. To begin with, it operates at 5GHz which makes it less susceptible to interference. It also utilizes a different transmission method, orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM), which passes data simultaneously along multiple sub-channels. Doing this results in a higher potential throughput rate of 54Mbps. To top it off, 11a has eight different non-overlapping channels to chose from, rather than just three.

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